IN THE presence of G. Washington the Marquis de Lafayette swore a great oath when he came over here to fight for our freedoms in 1778.
He would maintain and defend (he said) the United States against King George III, which was all very well since the war was against that king, but the oath went on to bind Lafayette to oppose the king's "heirs and successors, and his or their abettors, assistants and adherents . . ."
Well now, surely that is going a bit far.
What exactly is an "assistant?" If the Danessell cheese to England and Lafayette buys a box of sandwiches in Copenhagen, has he violated his oath?
These thoughts filled me at the National Archives this week when I visited an exhibit of 70 or so documents connected with Lafayette, including his oath of allegiance and (somewhat irrelevantly, of course) a letter from his 6-year-old daughter to Washington saying she missed her daddy ("I hope that papa whill come back son here . . .").
The labels are marvelously clear, the maps and illustrations engaging, most of them from the Lafayette collection of Cornell University (since everyone will wish to know where they came from), on public display 'till Labor Day.
Note the wholehearted endorsement of our state. Against her enemiesand their abettors and assistants forever, without much thought of the complexities likely to arise from so sweeping a commitment later on. I would have had the oath lawyered, if I were Lafayette, but he never thought of that. It is, among other things, a fine early example of the fortress theory, and defense 'till death.
Now as you know, no activity is so universal among the young as the building of forts, unless it be the manufacture of mud pies. You get in your fort and defend it and this prepares you for life and for government.
Fortress Washington (let me say I think forts are inherently feminine, phychologically) has always thought of itself as a kind of citadel, or oasis, orenclave, or a remnant of the faithful, which ought to be defended at all times from the heathen yowling at our gates. And against their heirs and abettors and assistants.
How is a city, a citadel, a fortress to be defended? I am thinking now of our own much-loved capital and her enemies, especially those of the State of Utah.
People stop me on the street and say,"Isn't it awful about Utah" and I always say "Lord, yes," on the theory that there is something awful about every place.
But what they mean, it turns out, is that Utah is one of those states that has refused to ratify the Equal Rights amendment, in open defiance of our own city council which has highly resolved the ERA is a great thing and has exhorted everyone to ratify it. Now Utah, alone among those states, has reacted to our city council's enthusiasm, as you shall see, and the fat has hit the fire. More of this later, but first:
Threatened on all sides, a city must think how best to survive. In ancient home they had geese, that waddled and stretched on the hills and protected the capital from midnight seizures.
Let any barbarian approach the gates of Rome and the sacred geese (it does not elevate their role too much to call them sacred) would sound off and the citizens would rally and the temples would be fumigated and the enemy would fall back; and the geese also kept the weeds down in the summer.
Visigoths and their ilk often muttered against Rome, fretting in their caves in some Alp or Appenine, but the geese always saved the city.
We cannot have geese in our modern day, but we rely on government to fulfill the same high ancient function, and thus far the government has kept the barbarians at bay.
Everyone applauds such prudent measures as parking stickers (whereby most of the non-resident rabble is kept out of Georgetown, say) and I cannot imagine anyone opposing a tax on commuters from Rockville who infilitrate the city almost daily.
The wisest proviso thus far is the ban on city-paid travel to Utah, which does not support the ERA as we do. Let it be known to all that this ban extends to city-paid travel to any other place, not just Utah, that defies our judgement.
You may hear it said, by the craven, that potholes and bus schedules and property taxes are the gist of city government, not constitutional amendments in Utah.
But it is hard to see how a capital can remain free if barbarians may with impunity mock our elected council.
Washington is our fort. Like Lafayette we must die for it, if necessary. The timid ventures - the parking stickers - were a beginning, but we really need sentries and passwords, and a new and independent language all our own, and perhaps sparatism from those other governments (namely, the 50 states) which violate the precepts of our city government.
And our duty need not be grim. Who can forget the bursting joy of crawling into the fort, in earliest boyhood, with Fisher and Alice and John while the enemy (Jim and Evelyn and Tim, you recall) threw rocks in a vain assault?
Cynics and sunshine patriots will say,"What about the potholes and the buses?"
There are mightier causes. Shall any man speak of potholes with Utah at the gates?
It turns out the City of Washington's ban on paid travel to Utah has not thus far made much difference. Not many public servants have had to go to Utah, so the ban has not been widely felt.
BUt the Utah legislature, in and act of unparalleled impudence, has now banned state-paid travel to any place (namely, Fortress Washington) that has banned paid travel to Utah. Thus the governor of Utah, who claims he has business with us, proposed to fly to a Virginia airport, since Virginia has never done anything one way or another about Utah and therefore is not affected by the Utah law.
He will ride into Washington by cab, it is said, paying his own way, since his state will not pay for his entrance into our midst.
Sooner or later somebody is going to wake up and establish a secretariat for external affairs at City Hall to deal with just such matters as this.
Statistics are, as usual, lacking; but the number of barbarians who get into this capital by cab from Alexandria (Drybacks) is very great, and some tightening up seems proper. The time to move against Virginia may have come, if it persists in assisting or abetting Utah.
If this means passports and exit permits for those of us in the city, then surely it is not too great a price to pay for security. Or would we prefer Ohio to get off light when the mayor of Callaway openly sneers at our cherry blossoms?
As I remember it, the main thing in defending a fort is a great stock of cream soda, since one is likely to be cut off from supplies. And plenty of bowdocks (osage oranges, they call them here) to throw at the invaders, and that's about all you need.